Ravenwood, Chapter 9 [fiction]

Alice Lake:

Alice Lake and Myers Ridge
Alice Lake

Alice Lake and its community is a scenic area of Ravenwood. It once held the stature of being its own municipality, complete with a town hall and post office. It became a popular spot for vacationers (many from Pittsburgh) in the 1920s and became part of Ravenwood in 1957, making Ravenwood approximately two and one-half miles wide (east to west) by four and one-half miles long (north to south).

Alice Lake is a spring fed glacier-made lake one-half mile wide and a little more than one mile long, 8 acres, and with an average depth of 26 feet along a kettle bottom with holes as deep as 50+ feet. Surrounded by approximately 750 private homes and cottages, the lake is picturesque with its quaint cottages and beautiful homes. Visitors can rent a room anytime at Richard and Melissa Bay’s Bed & Breakfast—a charming and spacious Folk Victorian home. They can tour the Alice Myers Museum—a colorful Gothic Revival House—every Tuesday through Saturday and acquaint themselves with the lake’s namesake. They can browse Ellen Waverly’s art gallery and buy excellent local artwork. And they can shop nearly every day at the nineteen specialty gift shops, which sells a mix of country and Victorian knickknacks not found in city chain-stores. Antiques are also a specialty, and Johnson’s Antiques and Auction is less than a mile away at downtown Ravenwood.

My fictitious Pennsylvania Fish Commission maintains the lake and its two public boat launches. When I first created Ravenwood, the lake was used recreationally for swimming and fishing only; there were no horse-powered boats. Now, a 10 horsepower boat is the limit. And now, my characters can rent pontoons, paddle boats or canoes at Maguire’s Boating, Fishing and Hunting, which is open year-round.

For the angler, the Fish Commission stocks Alice Lake with pan fish, bluegill, perch, sunfish, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and small and large mouth bass. For the hunter, many public game lands border the area. In the winter, Alice Lake is widely used for ice fishing. Although many of the roads that wind around the lake are dirt or gravel, the State maintains them well. Other winter activities include snowmobiling sponsored by the lake park’s Recreation Hall. And the entertainment hall has a 24-lane bowling alley and a heated indoor swimming pool.

During the summer, there are fishing contests and kayaking, sailing and canoe rowing races on the lake, and go-cart racing and miniature golf at the Recreation Hall. City council displays a fireworks show on the lake every Fourth of July.

Tourists and locals can sip wine coolers and dip lobster in drawn butter on the patio at the Mill Pond Restaurant at the south side of the lake while kids can swim and slide down the fabulous water slide into the lake. Or they and their families can have delicious homemade and hand stretched pizza, subs, and calzones any day of the year at Connie’s Pizzeria.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are inexpensive pleasures at The Roundhouse. Once the lake’s roller rink, it became a restaurant and dining hall after fire nearly destroyed the building in 1966. The Roundhouse hosts dances and live music every Saturday night from June until the end of September.

The south side of Alice Lake comprises an Amish community, so it is common to see Amish buggies traveling the lake roads no matter the time of year.

More about Ravenwood is in the works. I promise.

Ravenwood, Chapter 8 [fiction]

Halloween Tales, Part 2:

“I saw his ghost too,” Vree said. “Back in July, Evan and I—” she turned to me, “Evan’s uncle married my Aunt Addi in June—we were hiking along the cliffs when a sudden rainstorm hit. We found shelter in a nearby cave no bigger than a broom closet. Lightning threw erratic patches of light across the stony interior, and in between darkness and light, we saw Norman Myers’s ghost standing at the entrance for a moment. The ghost pointed at our feet before it vanished. When we looked down, we found a chunk of gold the size of a softball. It had the initials NWM carved into it, something miners did to mark their property.”

“Norman Wesley Myers,” Dave said. He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and took out a photograph of a rock that looked like the size of a large man’s fist. I could only believe the initials I saw stood for the full name of the man whose ghost haunted Myers Ridge.

“There was another time, Vree said, “when my mom’s friend Brian Johnson was with his wife Maria, photographing nature on the west side of Myers Ridge. Both are scenic photographers who enjoy taking pictures of the ridge’s rock formations. They worked like crazy that day, trying to get as many good contrast shots as possible before sundown.

“By nightfall, they had their tent up and a fire going. They ate some beans and franks and slept under the stars. Then around two-thirty in the morning, Brian awoke and found Maria gone. He called for her, but she didn’t answer, so he took his lantern and searched for her.

“He looked past some trees and saw a human’s shadowy figure walking near an outcropping of rock. The figure stopped and looked at Brian, then vanished into a wall of rock. Brian knew he had just seen a ghost and he wondered if it was Norman Myers. He also wondered if Maria was there. He poked around and found a narrow entrance in the mound of rock. He said a quick prayer and crawled inside, taking along his lantern, which made crawling slow and tiring. But soon he crawled out into a tall and cold gallery of limestone. Sudden movement caused him to turn and stare into the face of Norman Myers. He almost screamed, but Norman vanished and the flame in Brian’s lantern flickered and almost went out. He steadied the lantern and collected his wits while he waited for his heart rate to return to normal. That’s when he saw Maria farther inside, kneeling at the bones of a human skeleton. Strange green light glowed from the bones and Maria told him that she had awoken to relieve her bladder. Then she saw Norman’s ghost and followed it into the cave where he told her that a witch had cursed him to become wealthy, and that the curse caused him to desire more and more wealth until madness consumed him and he perished inside Myers Ridge.

“She claims Norman seeks to find the witch and end her life, which will put his spirit to rest.”

Vree’s story made me shiver.

We told more ghost stories—except for Amy, who said they were dumb and pointless—until it was time for me to leave.

That night in bed, Vree’s unsettling tale about Norman Myers’s ghost being a vengeful spirit looking for the witch who cursed him made me wonder what sort of horrible death he had suffered. I could only imagine, though I hesitated doing so, afraid it would give me bad dreams.

Oddly, though, I slept fine.

More Ravenwood stories coming soon.

Ravenwood, Chapter 6 [fiction]

The Game:

I love playing and watching baseball games. I was on my high school’s baseball team for four years, didn’t see much action, so it was more fun playing Pony League in the summer (until I became too old) and sandlot ball with my friends. We also played softball for a local church team. Vree and Dave played softball for their local church team too and they invited me to watch a game.

I arrived late—chores, of course—and seated myself at the top row of the bleachers behind home plate and a few feet to the left of Amy Everly, Dave’s younger sister. She had curly brown hair that framed an oval, soft face. During the game, she clapped her small, delicate hands while she cheered her brother and cousin on.

Amy

“Who’s winning?” I asked her.

She stopped cheering and addressed me with a cool look. “Bottom of the seventh,” she said. “Nazarenes are up five to four.” She then told me that Johnny Blake, the Nazarenes’ pitcher, had been throwing change-ups and heated fisticuff strikes all game long and was still striking out batters

I thanked her and cheered for Vree and Dave’s team, New Gospel, to win.

Dave began the final half-inning by fouling the first pitch from Johnny Blake. I admired Blake’s determination to win, but it was Dave’s determination I admired more.

He fouled the second pitch straight back, which cleared the backstop and practically landed in my lap. I gave the ball to Amy.

“For you, mademoiselle,” I said when I handed it to her.

She screwed up her nose, threw the ball back onto the field, and slid away from me, putting several feet of space between us.

The New Gospel players inside the dugout at the first base side of the field, all called for Dave to hit the ball. For a skinny guy, he had broad shoulders and muscular forearms, which I figured gave him an excellent chance to clout a four-bagger and tie the game.

Blake’s next pitch came in low at Dave’s knees and dropped before it reached home plate. Dave swung a windmill cut at the ball and missed it by the proverbial baseball mile. The ball scooted under the catcher and umpire and zipped straight to the backstop. Dave, aware of his mistake, never hesitated. He raced to first base as the catcher caught up with the ball and threw to first base. The speedy Dave Everly beat the throw.

Vree headed to the batter’s box.

“Just make contact,” Amy yelled.

“She’s no hitter,” the third baseman yelled out to his teammates. Then to Blake, “Strike her out.”

Vree poised herself well at the plate and hit the first pitch—wham, bam—right into the third baseman’s glove. In a matter of a second, she had lined out. The next batter grounded into a double play: 6 to 4 to 3. The teams met at home plate in a game ending ritual of touching hands and saying “Good game” to one another.

Amy stood up and prepared to leave. I introduced myself. She scowled at my outstretched hand, did a quick about-face, and sprinted down the bleachers.

“Pleasure to meet you, anyway,” I said to her fleeing backside. Then, moments later, I, too, headed down the bleachers.

More to come.

Ravenwood, Chapter 5 [fiction]

The Gold Hunt, Part 2:

Dave

Dave Everly, Vree’s cousin, was a year older than Vree and me. And according to the blue T-shirt he wore, his school may have been Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. I didn’t ask.

He had thick, dark brown hair, bright, greenish blue eyes, and was scrawnier and an inch taller than me.

After we exchanged pleasantries in his driveway, we rode the blacktopped Ridge Road almost a mile before we ditched our bikes in a field of tall grass and followed a well-traveled deer path to a swampy outcropping along the eastern edge of Myers Ridge. Vree, our leader, put up her right hand for us to stop.

“This is where I spotted gold the other day,” she said. “Come on.”

Dave and I followed until we stood at the edge of a cliff. Twenty feet below us, water trickled from the hillside, fell, splattered on rock farther down, and fell again to Alice Lake far below.

“You spotted gold where?” I asked, peering over the edge.

“Trust me,” Vree said. She got busy and helped Dave with the rope she had brought. She tied her end to a young hornbeam tree, which some of my relatives call ironwood. Then Dave harnessed his end to Vree and lowered her to where water exited the side of Myers Ridge. She dug around at the wet ground, pulled up rocks, examined them closely, and tossed them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so I returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure Vree’s knot still held. It did.

A red squirrel inspected the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy. It was likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called me back.

We hoisted a grinning Vree to us and she proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when I held it.

“Think there’s more?” Dave asked. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold.

Vree shrugged and blew into her hands. “I should have brought gloves,” she said before taking the rock away from me.

“What are you going to do with it?” Dave asked.

Vree shrugged again. “Melt it, maybe, and make a bracelet. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”

“We should go down there tomorrow and look for more,” Dave said.

Vree sighed. “I have a dentist appointment in the morning and then shopping at the mall with my mom. We’d only have the evening to look for more.”

“How about this weekend?” I asked. “We could even check the mines you told me about.”

Dave’s eyes widened. “Are you crazy? Some of those mines have caved in. And they’re infested with rattlesnakes.”

Cliffs at Myers Ridge during autumn
Cliffs next to Alice Lake in summer

“I’m not saying we go in the mines. I’m saying that the ground outside may have bits of gold that someone may have dropped.”

“I don’t know,” Vree said. “Some of the underground mines have caused sinkholes where the ground collapsed. Those things are just as dangerous as the mines.” She looked up at the evening sky. “It’s getting late. I have to get home. What’s your phone number, Steve? I’ll call you and we’ll discuss it.”

“I don’t remember,” I lied. “But I’ll be in town this weekend.”

We decided to meet at noon on Saturday at Dave’s driveway. Then we headed back. We had gone more than a quarter mile, perhaps 600 yards, when the flash of light caught out attention. It was sunlight reflecting off the chrome of a green sedan off in a field to our left. We stopped.

“That’s an abandoned road to one of the mines,” Dave said.

A field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed hid the road, but a vehicle had obviously driven on it recently since the tires had flattened the grass.

“My Spidey sense is tingling,” Vree said. I chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when I saw the car back up to turn around.

“Hit the deck,” Vree shouted. We dove for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. I pressed myself close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of my borrowed bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.

The green sedan reached Ridge Road and stopped. We were ten yards away. Had the driver seen us? I kept still, even when a horsefly bit one of my sweaty arms and sucked my blood for what seemed like several minutes before the car turned onto the road and drove away.

I unclenched my jaw and let out a groan before I slapped at the murderous fly. Vree scrambled down the overgrown road, heading toward the mine. Dave and I followed and caught up to her at the mouth of the cave, which someone had boarded up with old barn wood planks. We pulled the boards away and Vree and I entered a musty smelling cavern.

“Snakes,” Dave said behind me.

I froze. “Where?”

“I’m just saying there could be rattlers,” he said, pushing past me. “Watch your step.”

The mine changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther we went. We passed an old rail cart covered with empty burlap sacks.

A thought came to me that we should look inside the cart. Then, as though she had read my mind, Vree ran to it and pulled away the sacks.

We found 16-year-old Laurie Burnett bound and gagged inside. She seemed okay and was very relieved and thankful to be free. She was also very angry at the ordeal her captors had put her through, and she used some naughty words to describe them to us while we led her back to Dave’s house.

A day later, the police caught the two criminals, who turned out to be Emergency Medical Technicians at New Cambridge Hospital where Laurie’s dad was a surgeon. That Saturday, he drove to Dave’s house and rewarded Vree, Dave and I with one hundred dollars each. I split my money with Vree and Dave before we went looking for more gold.

We never found any.

More Ravenwood stories coming soon.

Ravenwood, Chapter 4 [fiction]

The Gold Hunt, Part 1:

It was Tuesday, two days after our visit to the police station when I met Vree at her favorite fishing hole. I was late getting to my typewriter because of a trip to see some of my mom’s relatives who were in town and at my grandma’s house. Afterwards, I had a standoff with a mean Chihuahua while I delivered newspapers on my paper route, mow the lawn when I got home, and then eat supper—everything on your plate, young man! By the time I caught up to Vree, it was after six o’clock.

She had just wrapped some catfish in newspaper when she said, “We’re twins.”

She had on a red T-shirt like mine, blue jeans, and white sneakers.

Coincidence?

She handed me the catfish and I spotted an interesting news article on the page wrapped around the fish.

PARENTS OF KIDNAPPED GIRL RECEIVE RANSOM NOTE
By LEE WESTFIELD, New Cambridge Times reporter
New Cambridge Police Chief Sanford Owens has reported to this newspaper that the parents of 16-year-old Laurie Burnett received a ransom note earlier this week asking for $500,000 in exchange for the girl’s safe return.
The girl has been missing since Monday night when she was last seen at a soccer game at New Cambridge High School located on East Hickory Street. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Burnett, became concerned when she did not return home after the game. The New Cambridge Police Department was notified and an investigation followed. No leads have been found.
Chief Owens said he and FBI Director James McNabb have advised the family to cooperate with the kidnappers and to do everything possible for the girl’s safety, including payment of the ransom.
Miss Burnett was the 1970 winner of the Miss New Cambridge Junior Beauty Pageant.
The police and FBI are continuing the investigation into the kidnapping.

“Wow,” I said, “wouldn’t it be cool if one of us found the kidnappers’ lair and foiled their plans? We would be heroes.”

“You watch too much TV,” Vree said, handing me another newspaper-wrapped package of fish.

“I do love a good mystery,” I told her while she picked up her pole and tackle box.

We headed to her Aunt Addi’s house to drop off some of the fish. I waited outside where someone had parked a ten-speed Schwinn racing bike in the front yard. I sat on it and pretended to ride it while I waited. It was a warm, quiet evening with less than three hours left and I was antsy to do something fun before the day ended.

When Vree came out, she went straight to the garage and wheeled out a five-speed bike that had seen better days. She had a coil of rope with her, slung over her left shoulder.

She made me get off her bike and follow her on the five-speed. We rode west and up a long and steep road to Myers Ridge. Along the way, she told me that there had been gold mines on Myers Ridge many years ago and that she knew where to find more near her home.

Myers Ridge was a woodsy end moraine with dairy farms, cow and horse pastures, and miles of secondary woods and brushy new-growth meadows caused by centuries of heavy tree cutting. We had gone about three miles when we came to a white and vintage two-story farmhouse. A lanky boy our age waited for us at the foot of a long driveway.

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 3 [fiction]

Official Town History:

In 1702, French fur hunters and trappers who traded with Native Americans and settlers migrating west along the Allegheny valley constructed a trading post in Pennsylvania called Amity. The village remained a trading post until 1747.

On March 12, 1800, the state formed Myers County from parts of Allegheny County. Frank Wood renamed Amity to Raven Wood in 1829 after his mother’s lineage: Raven and his father’s lineage: Wood.

Raven Wood grew into a sizable railroad town soon after the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859. On May 27, 1861, tracks owned by the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad intersected with those of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad and called the “Atlantic and Erie Junction.” Frank Wood owned land at the junction and sold a portion to the Atlantic and Great Western in October 1861. The railroad constructed a ticket office at the junction and named it for Raven Wood, but through a misspelling, it became Ravenwood.

The combination of railroad growth and the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania contributed greatly to Ravenwood’s development. The town went from a population of six hundred in 1861 to nine thousand in less than six months. Many surrounding forests were stripped of almost all of their valuable hardwood. Mills and farms sprang up on almost every conceivable spot.

The state recognized the boomtown as a borough in 1863 and designated it as a city in 1865.

Ravenwood’s Strange Lights:

Small, airborne green and yellow bumblebee-type creatures appeared in 1745, back when the town was  Amity. On the night of July 7, the glowing creatures swarmed over the town, hovered in the sky for an hour, then turned into thick, black ash that fell and settled on the town like tarry soot.

During cleanup, fever, madness and death seized most of the three-hundred-and-fifty townspeople. For five days, many of the afflicted suffered slow, agonizing deaths. Of the few who lived outside of town and were not afflicted, one was 19-year-old Ezekiel Wood. He recorded a grisly account about a fur trader who murdered his wife and two children while they slept, and then stuffed their corpses inside the belly of a slaughtered cow. Ezekiel also wrote of lunatics setting fire to the town. Nearly all the homes had both dead and living inside. Ezekiel, who was attending the sick, managed to escape the inferno by submerging himself in the local river. He was the only known survivor of the blaze, and he became great-grandfather to Ravenwood founder, Frank Wood.

No one has seen the lights again.

Every town has its urban legends and Ravenwood is no exception. There are the fabled cries of help from dead school kids who were on a bus that sank to the bottom of Three Mile Swamp, the lunatic with a hook for a hand who escaped from the prison at nearby New Cambridge, and Norman Myers’s ghost on Myers Ridge.

These stories and more crop up every Halloween.

Coming soon: More about Vree and other Ravenwood characters.

Ravenwood, Chapter 2 [fiction]

The Day I Met Vree Erikson:

Vree

It was a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon in September, sixty degrees and the blue sky mottled in places with clouds that looked like white cotton candy shreds. Church was over for most people in Ravenwood when I bobbed my fishing line in Myers Creek beneath Cherry Street’s cement bridge.

A blonde-haired girl in a blue T-shirt and jeans gave me the once over after she slid down the embankment and entered the narrow strip of grassy underside below the steel bridge. I stood far enough away so I didn’t happen to intrude on her favorite fishing spot, if she had one.

“Hey,” she said to me, a friendliness in her voice but edged with a note of suspicion.

I said it back, then left her alone until her hook and bait were submerged in the deep middle of the creek and a few cars had rumbled by overhead.

“Fish here often?” I asked when the disturbed dirt and dust had settled.

“Yeah.” She played her line. “Never seen you around before.”

I considered how to answer her question. “Just visiting,” I said.

She seemed okay with that, so I told her my name. She told me hers: “Vree … Vree Erikson.”

I asked her to repeat it—had I heard it right? Bree?

“V-r-e-e,” she spelled for me in a breath that sounded like an irritated sigh. Thoughts of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Bree and Middle-earth disappeared and we didn’t speak again for several minutes.

I reeled in my hook from the dark creek bed that must have been either occupied by sleeping fish or unoccupied by any fish at all when I heard two boys talking above us. One had a tenor voice, the other baritone. They sounded excited.

“How much do you think we got?” tenor asked. “Think we got a hundred or more?”

“We’ll count it when we get to my place,” baritone said.

“You’ll split it fifty-fifty. Right?”

“Quit whining and come on.”

Something plunked in the water to my right. Someone had thrown a rock from the bridge. The ripples settled and the voices had stopped when Vree said, “Sounds like they stole some money.” She approached and stood at my side. Like me, she had reeled in her hook and sinker.

“And who are they?” I asked, intrigued by the mystery.

“Craig Coleman and Morty Twitchel.”

“Morty Twitchel?” I said and screwed up my nose. “What kind of name is that?”

“Morton the moron. That’s what a lot of kids call him. He has some kind of nasal problem the doctors can’t fix because his dad broke his nose a few times. I used to feel sorry for him until he started hanging around Craig. Craig’s the meanest kid in Ravenwood.”

“I take it you don’t get along with Craig.”

“No one gets along with him. Except for Morty. He and Craig are almost inseparable, which doesn’t make sense.”

“How come?”

Vree removed her wet, lifeless worm and tossed it into the creek. “Craig’s dad stabbed and killed Morty’s dad in a bar fight at the Edge of Town Tavern last summer.”

“So Craig’s dad killed the guy using Morty’s face as a punching bag.”

“And now Craig and Morty are best friends.” Vree shook her head. “Go figure.” She went to her tackle box. I followed.

“So where is this tavern?” I asked. “So I can stay far away from it.”

“On Lake Road toward Alice Lake,” she said, snapping a plastic lid on her coffee can of worms.

“Maybe they should rename the place The Prancing Pony.”

Vree didn’t get my Tolkien reference, so I shuffled to my own tackle box and closed it up. My head was full of thoughts about Hobbits right then.

“Where are you going?” I asked when I caught up to Vree. We were on the bridge by then and heading toward downtown.

“Police station,” she said. “I figure if anyone reports a robbery, the cops should know to question Craig and Morty.”

I followed her to the station house next to the fire station and waited outside the red brick building while she went in and reported what we had overheard. When she came out, I tagged along to a square, yellow house with white rose bushes in the front yard. She invited me in, but I declined her offer. It was suppertime and I would have to get ready for evening church soon.

A brown-haired woman called from the front door. “I just sent Dave and Amy to the store. You’re supposed to wait here for them if your mom comes before they get back.” She was pretty with long, straight hair like Vree’s and a pleasant face. She smiled at me and I smiled back.

“Dave and Amy are my cousins,” Vree said to me when I inquired. “We live on Myers Ridge but they must be visiting my Aunt Addi. She has no kids, so she pays us to do chores for her.” She smiled at me before she went inside. I stopped writing for the day.

To be continued.